Episode 5 | May 22, 2018
Hosts Kyle Frazier and Whitney Torres visit Community First! Village to interview Alan Graham, the Founder, CEO, and President of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. He shares his story and explains how he ended up living full-time at this unique and amazing “RV park on steroids” for the formerly homeless. He also describes some of the sustainability features that make Community First! Village so special – and why you should visit to see it in person!
Building a Life of Service One Step at a Time
For over 20 years, Alan Graham was a real estate developer for office buildings, retail, land, commercial investment, even air cargo facilities on airports. He had an epiphany on a men’s retreat that led to a philosophy he calls “Just Say Yes.” Alan began helping where he could, saying yes to opportunities to give to others, such was making sandwiches for homeless people, which “led to the vision in 1998 that you could take a catering truck on the streets and load it with abundance and take it to those that lack abundance.”
He founded the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes 20 years ago with four buddies and has expanded its mission over time, eventually leading him back to real estate development – albeit with a very different purpose.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes has three key programs today:
1. Truck operation: For the past 20 years, they have been delivering daily meals to the homeless and working poor where they are. Today they have 13 trucks delivering 1,200 meals every day.
2. Community First! Village: This 27-acre master planned community opened in December 2015 and was the evolution of an idea that sprouted 14 years ago with the purchase of one gently used RV that lifted a single person off the streets. The Community First program helped 100 individuals move into RV homes around Austin before this more ambitious development created 230 homes with 300 more planned.
3. Community Works: This latest program provides micro-enterprise opportunities that empower people experiencing homelessness to earn a dignified income. It includes the Community Art House, Community Forge & Woodshop, and Community Concessions & Catering.
Alan and his wife have been living at Community First! Village for a year “in 399 extraordinarily spacious square feet” and are now furthering their commitment to the community by selling their home in Westlake Hills. “There was a freedom that was exploding out of the simplicity of our lives, and then we loved the community that was here. We’re in a new season and we love where we are now.”
He says that the idea of “picking ourselves up by our bootstraps” is an American fallacy that neglects to account for the interdependence underpinning all success. Now, Alan is creating a sense of family, community, and home that enables hundreds of formerly lost people to thrive.
Sustainability at Community First! Village
It requires creative thinking to address the cost of living challenges associated with enabling a sustainable lifestyle for people in extreme poverty. The residents at Community First! Village earn on average $700 per month, and the community is set up to help them manage several of the largest expenses in a family budget.
Housing: The homes are designed to minimize costs, and the monthly rent is priced affordably for low-income residents.
Food: The onsite farm includes a multi-acre organic vegetable garden, hundreds of fruit and nut trees, dairy goats, chickens, rabbits, donkeys, and honeybees. The dozens of eggs produced weekly, along with the goats’ milk, honey, fruits, and vegetables, are all free to community residents.
Utilities: Energy and water are significant expenses for low-income families, and Community First! Village is designed to minimize those costs. A 14.4kW SunPower solar panel array was installed by Freedom Solar Power on a central building, offsetting the community’s electricity costs with green energy. They also have a rainwater collection system, and common-area facilities reduce energy and water use. “The common laundry/restroom/shower facilities use less water, less electricity, less and heat. Instead of having everyone self-contained inside their own little units, we’re coming to a common kitchen where people are sharing meals together.”
Daily Life in the Village
There are more amenities than you might expect at Community First! Village:
Plus, they are about to break ground on 24 more acres next door that will add 300 more housing units, a large clinic with respite/hospice, an 8,000 square foot maker space, and a 4,000 square foot recreational game hall.
Pets are not only allowed but encouraged. Alan remembers seeing an emotional TV interview of Mickey O’Rourke during his comeback in “The Wrestler” that explains how lifesaving they can be. O’Rourke explained that he was broke, alone, on the verge of suicide when his dogs saved his life because he didn’t want to leave them alone. “I believe that when we treat animals well, there’s going to be unconditional love there. But even when at my best I treat other humans well, there could be disappointment. Pets, especially dogs, are an incredible part of the healing process.” In addition to emotional support, dogs also provide their owners with a reason to exercise and to get out into the community.
How to Support the Community
Visit the mlf.org website to donate to Mobile Loaves & Fishes, learn about volunteer opportunities for individuals and for company service days, and check out upcoming events at Community First! Village, such as free movie screenings every Friday night at Community Cinema.
Kyle recalls bringing his kids out last December to shop at the Advent Market and see the Community First! Village of Lights, which Alan said will be expanded in 2018 thanks to a partner donation. As Kyle suggests, the easiest way to support Community First! Village is to just show up and see what’s happening.